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Prevention, disease management can create health cost savings for business, say panelists

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Business and government can reduce the massive costs of chronic illnesses, most of which are preventable or can be better managed, with smarter coordination, speakers at a health care panel said today.

Figuring how to improve that coordination is the challenge.

HealthCare Institute of New Jersey CEO Dean Paranicas, citing figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said about 75 percent of health care spending, or $1.9 trillion out of $2.5 trillion, is focused on treating chronic disease.

But Paranicas said about 80 percent of those illnesses, ranging from cancers to high blood pressure and high cholesterol, can be prevented or treated better, meaning $1.5 trillion of annual health care spending can be vastly reduced.

“Think of the burden on employers,” Paranicas said. “Think of the burden on the health care and education systems. Think of the burden on the economy. There are so many different impacts.”

HINJ organized the forum, “Chronic Disease Management: Improving Outcomes and Bending the Cost Curve,” to an audience of about 50 at the Forsgate County Club, in Monroe.

While some disease is genetically influenced, Paranicas said many recurring illnesses are caused or worsened by bad nutrition, lack of physically activity, tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption.

“It’s where the cost is. It’s where the pain is. It’s where the suffering is,” said David Knowlton, CEO of New Jersey Health Care Quality Institute, the forum moderator. “It’s where the money needs to be.”

Panelists agreed that better education and dissemination of information is needed, though that can be challenging when trying to persuade disparate elements of society.

Rebecca Burkholder, vice president of health policy for the National Consumers League, said poor medication adherence is at the root of many problems.

Burkholder estimated three in four Americans do not take medication as directed, either because of forgetfulness, resistance, fear of side effects or cost concerns. This leads to more emergency visits and hospitalizations

Citing figures from the journal Medical Care, Burknolder said every dollar spent on improving adherence saves $7 in medical costs for people with diabetes, $5 for people with high cholesterol and $4 for people with high blood pressure.

The National Consumers League, a Washington, D.C.-based consumer organization focusing marketplace and workplace issues, has begun a national campaign titled Script Your Future to advance its case.

Donald Sico, CEO of the Riverston public relations firm Donald Sico & Co. LLC, pressed the panel on why there isn’t more aggressive action to combat childhood obesity.

Cathleen Bennett, director of policy and strategic planning for the New Jersey Department of Health, said one solution is to promote breastfeeding, which some hospitals are doing. Breastfeeding in the first nine months of infant’s life greatly reduces childhood obesity, and can reduce the likelihood of adulthood obesity by 30 percent, she said.

Bennett added that New Jersey has the highest rate of childhood obesity among low-income people aged 2 to 5, increasing odds that those children won’t live as long as their parents. She said Camden’s construction of its first grocery store in about 20 years is a step toward solving that problem.

“People who live in low-income areas are going to have access to fresh food, fruits and vegetables and milks in ways they haven’t had in the past,” Bennett said.

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